Watching the first season of The Girlfriend Experience is a bit unnerving. It’s an intimate experience – verging on voyeurism – because the ten episodes flow by so smoothly that it feels far too real when something jagged breaks the surface. Then, and only then, do we realize that there’s been all kinds of roiling, bubbling undercurrents that have to one explosive moment or another.
Christine Reade (Riley Keough) is a law student who gets a rare internship with a prestigious law firm. Her curiosity about a friend and classmate’s method of paying the bills intrigues her and she finds herself moonlighting as a high call girl providing The Girlfriend Experience.
The first season opens with our meeting Christine as she attends classes, interviews for that rare internship and gets it, and discovers that her friend Avery (Kate Lyn Sheil), Outcast) has a unique way of paying her bills: she’s a GEP (Girlfriend Experience Provider).
Intrigued, Christine accompanies her on a date, discovers that Avery’s friend has brought a friend and things quickly get more interesting.
Before long, Avery introduces Christine to Jacqueline (Alexandra Castillo, Lucky 7) and becomes a GEP, too – and balancing her law school classes, internship and GEP work begin to take a bit of a toll, prompting one of her professors to issue a warning about her falling behind.
At work, Christine is first assigned as intern to David Tellis (Paul Sparks, Boardwalk Empire, The Night Of), a man who is the running to become the firm’s managing partner – and working with his executive assistant, Erin Roberts (Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24) who becomes a bit of a mentor.
Slowly, though, Christine devotes more and more time to being a GEP…
Created and directed by Lodge Kerrigen and Amy Seimetz (who also plays Christine’s older sister, Annabel) – he directed seven eps; she did six.
The Girlfriend Experience is ‘inspired by’ the Steven Soderbergh film (Soderbergh is an executive producer) but through thirteen 30-minute episodes, Kerrigan and Seimetz, along with Brian Koppleman and David Levien, really explore Christine’s progression into that unique world.
We see Christine as being excited to get to work in a prestigious law firm then slowly lose that excitement as it becomes clear that she’s being relegated to ‘cut and paste’ paperwork – while, simultaneously being drawn in by the new excitement of having no consequences sex with men who seem to value her as a person (while providing them the same value) and give her money and gifts.
Keough (Magic Mike, Mad Max: Fury Road), who reminds of the young Liv Tyler, bares Christine’s body and her soul in sequences that, money aside, play out as simple May-December romances with sex (a combination that is both touching and creepy). One of her clients (Nicholas Campbell (Haven, Republic of Doyle) even writes her into his will – though under her professional name; creating a bit of awkwardness…
Throughout the season, The Girlfriend Experience deals with issues of how women are treated in the workplace; of how not all sex workers are victims, and how it matters who makes the choices.
Shot, for the most part, with a pallet of blues, greens and browns, The Girlfriend Experience plays its palette against the emotions that roil beneath the surface of its characters. When those emotions break the surface – especially in the later episodes – they play against the flow of the episodes and the show’s palette, making them even more brutally impactful.
The principal characters are complex and intelligent, leading to intriguing situations on all fronts (Christine is betrayed on every level – by a friend, by someone she works with, and by a client she cut off) and the writing is so good that we are with Christine (though choices both good and bad) throughout – and we never feel like the show’s creators are trying Say Stuff (which is very good, considering that they actually do).
Where the first season The Girlfriend Experience DVD set lets us down, though, is in the bonus material. There are three featurettes – An Inside Look; What Is The Girlfriend Experience? and The Look of The Girlfriend Experience – that total less than ten minutes. That’s hardly enough time to any real insights into the workings of the show or what went into making it.
Grade: The Girlfriend Experience (Season One) – A
Grade: Features – D
Final Grade: B+